Keeping those pesky resolutions

Lessons from the Shepherds

Whether you make official New Year’s Resolutions or not, most of us have started 2011 endeavoring to spend more time in the Word, and with God.  I was re-reading Luke 1-3 this afternoon and discovered some interesting lessons from the shepherds’ response to encountering the God of the universe.  They are lessons that we’d all do well to heed in this new year.  It isn’t too late to talk about the Christmas story, is it? Surely these Scriptures can’t only be discussed between Thanksgiving and Christmas day can they?

Here are six lessons from the shepherds that may help us keep all our God-oriented resolutions….take a look:

  1. Fear God – “The glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.” Luke 2:9b

In our day and age, we don’t really talk too much about fearing God.  We smooth over those parts in the Scripture, opting instead to focus solely on His love, grace and mercy.  Don’t get me wrong – love, grace and mercy are certainly a big part of our God.  But having a healthy fear of the Lord might be a really good starting place for all of us – I know it would me.  How often do we minimize God to our own personal genie-in-a-bottle, or an emergency-911-service?  We turn to Him only when we need or want something, and then go about living our own lives in our own ways and in our own power in between.  We all too often take advantage of His extravagant grace, living far from Him and His ways.  We’re invited to engage with Him in prayer, but as we do so, our minds frequently wander, and it’s as if we’ve forgotten to Whom we’re speaking.  We read His commands in His book, and pick and choose which ones are for us, and which ones are for others.  We certainly welcome the privileges of being His child, but eschew too many of the responsibilities.  Maybe the shepherds had it right after all – they were terrified in the presence of the Lord.

2.  Hear His message – “But the angel said to them….the Lord has told us about.” Luke 2: 10-15

I suppose when you’re out in the middle of the field at night, there isn’t much to do.  Internet connections were probably pretty sketchy that far out of town, and since it was late, there weren’t too many still up to text.  So, when the angel appears with a message for the shepherds, they sat right up, listened and really heard the Lord’s message.  Oh the joys of having someone’s undivided attention.  I often wonder if we just don’t hear from angels as much anymore simply because we miss their announcements in between the hubbub of TV, Facebook, Wii games, cell phones, text messages, Twitter, Skype and more.  At any rate, whatever the shepherds were doing at the time got put aside when the angel arrived.  The shepherds stopped to listen and really hear his message.  Aside from a heavenly host of angels accosting us on the way to the grocery store – how can we possibly hear from the Lord today, in 2011?  His word is without a doubt a great place to start.  After all, His bestselling book must have something to say to us, even after all these years.  And of course there’s always prayer…which actually has two parts, even though most of us just engage in one half of that discipline.  Prayer is supposed to be about a conversation, not a monologue.  I know when I’m trying to talk to my own kids, I always have to wait for them to stop talking before I can communicate with them.  I wonder how many times God has to wait for us to stop talking, and start listening so we can hear His message.

Picture taken by Tracie Jenkins

3.  Experience His glory – “Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.'” Luke 2:13-14

Have you ever pictured yourself amongst the shepherds and tried to imagine what the heavenly host praising God would look and sound like?  As much as I try, I can’t hardly imagine the amazing spectacle.  Although none of us have probably seen a heavenly host of angels, we do have the opportunity to daily experience His glory.  One Bible teacher described these daily opportunities as “God-sightings”.  His glory might be glimpsed through a beautiful sunrise, hoar frost on a silent winter day, the laughter of children, a majestic worshipful chorus, or the kindness of a stranger.  The trusting faith of a little child, unexpected words of encouragement and a reassuring hug from a friend are all chances to experience God.  These fleeting instances might be a little more challenging to spot amid the busyness of our daily lives, but what if we committed ourselves to being intentional in searching them out?  What if we daily resolved to look for, identify, experience and enjoy His glory?  In fact, I have to believe the more we look for His glory, the more we’ll find it; and possibly, the more He’ll even show forth!

4.  Respond with haste – “When the angels had left them…they hurried off.” Luke 2: 15-16a

What’s God’s will for my life?  What should I do?  What does He want from me?  What is His plan for my life?  Is this a God-idea, or just a good idea?  I’ll have to pray about it.  Have you ever said any of these phrases?  If you haven’t, surely you’ve heard others say them.  I’ve often said them myself.  And while I’m certainly not devaluing the importance of prayer or searching out God’s will, I do think the shepherds’ response to God is highly instructive.  The shepherds didn’t form a committee to explore the idea of going to Bethlehem.  They didn’t sleep on it for the night.  They didn’t decide to just pray about it for a few days.  They heard the message and went.  And they didn’t just go, they went quickly.  I wonder how many opportunities we miss to join God in His plans and actions simply because we don’t respond with haste.  Have you ever gotten a nudge to call someone, drop someone a note, or to strike up a conversation with a stranger in the line at the grocery store?  Often times if we don’t respond immediately, the opportunity passes by.  What if we were to decide right now that our answer to God in 2011 will be “YES!”, regardless of the question or nudging?  What if we were to commit to responding with haste each and every time a God-opportunity arose, rather than to sit, wait, pray over, and ultimately miss out?  After all, aren’t God’s directives the very best option for our lives, and the lives of those around us?  Is there really a better option that will arise?

5.  Share the news – “When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.” Luke 2:17-18

Maybe you’re thinking, “Well sure, if I’d been there to see the birth of the Savior of the world, of course I’d share the news too!”  But would we really?  After all, don’t we each have something just as miraculous in our own lives – a testimony to what He has done, and Who He is – to share?  Haven’t we all been told about the child, the Savior?  In fact, we haven’t just been told a quick proclamation about His birth like the shepherds.  We actually know the whole story, from His redemptive plan starting in Genesis, through His victorious eternal reign as described in Revelation.  And even more than that, we have our own stories to tell.  What difference has God made in your life?  How has your life changed because of God’s birth?  And, how are you sharing the news?

There’s another part to the shepherds sharing the news too that might be easy to overlook.  It began with the angel’s pronouncement, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”  The shepherds’ special VIP front-row seats to the most amazing night of the century wasn’t just for them.  Sure, they may have been the only ones invited.  But the message wasn’t exclusive just for them.  Nor was the message about them – it was for others, and it was about God.  The people who heard the news weren’t amazed by the shepherds‘ experience.  They weren’t amazed by the shepherds‘  story.  They were amazed by God and His story.  When we tell the story of God’s work in our lives – do we bring attention and glory to ourselves, or to God?  Are people amazed by us, or by God’s power and presence?  Do we keep His blessings and provisions to ourselves, thinking if they were given to us, they surely are intended for us?  Or do we share the news, the blessings, the provisions with others?  Are we a receptacle or a conduit?

6.  Worship the Lord – “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.” Luke 2:20

Wouldn’t it have been thrilling to be part of one of the first worship services ever recorded in the New Testament?  Can you imagine the shepherds glorifying and praising God from the distant hills surrounding Bethlehem, echoing the chorus of angels they had experienced just hours before?  I seriously doubt there were arguments about the best ways to worship.  Instead, a band of ragtag shepherds, the lowest-of-the-low in society, had spent time with the Lord, been changed, and responded with praise.  The weariness of their recent travels, the lateness of the hour, and the lowly position of their societal status melted away as voices were raised in glorious adoration.  Shouldn’t we do the same?  How often do we respond to the Lord in worshipful praise?  When was the last time we stripped away our needs, our wants, our desires and our preferences?  When was the last time we made it all about Him?

My personal 2011 “To Do Daily” post-it note has already been written, and is on the desktop of my computer.  But, as I consider these lessons from the shepherds, I might just have to revise that list.  What if these lessons became part of my daily to do list this year?  What might happen if I intentionally committed to daily fearing God, hearing His message, experiencing His glory, responding with haste, sharing the news and worshiping the Lord?  I’m not sure what would happen, but I just might have to find out!  What about you?  How might you apply these lessons this year?